Why is a community-led approach is important to implement within a library context?

This is a piece that I wrote about a year ago which may be of interest to Network members.  Any thoughts? ~ Ken

By integrating community-led service planning into the way in which library staff do their work, it provides them with additional tools and approaches to working with community.  Community-led service planning is usually implemented by focusing on a specific targeted community (e.g. teens, older adults, homeless, immigrants, etc.) and walking library staff through the service planning process.  This includes having staff develop relationships with community members (community assessment), discovering community need (needs identification), developing program or service responses with community, implementing a program or service (with community), and evaluating throughout the entire process.

Traditionally, service planning was a very insular and internal process, where library staff would develop services based on their perceptions and speculation about community need.  Services were also created ‘for’ community and delivered by library staff in-house or as outreach to the community. 

The community-led approach acknowledges the important role traditional approaches can still play in serving community – but it also provides additional approaches that involve working with community.  Using a community-led approach, library staff actively listen to people talk about their library based needs, plan collaboratively with community members, and modify and reshape activities based upon community input.  Community is actively involved in defining and measuring outcomes.  

Most importantly, community-led approaches shift the role of library staff so they are the facilitators of knowledge exchanges between community and the library.  Each has something to learn from and contribute to the other. The community teaches the library about the community: its assets, its challenges and its needs; while, library staff inform the community about library systems and where change can most readily happen.

This can be a humbling change management process for library staff to undertake.  It requires a collaboration of equals between community members and the library. It requires a shedding of the personae of the librarian as educator and expert, and adopting a new identity – librarian as facilitator.  To clarify, librarians do maintain their professional expertise as information managers, while community is acknowledged for its expertise of their own needs. 

Ultimately, this approach will ensure that library programs and services will continue to be relevant to local communities.  Instead of building something and waiting to see if people will come [I like to refer to this as the ‘Field of Dreams’ model], this approach ensures that the community will come, since they are involved throughout the entire process.


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